Amenhotep IV took on the name of Akhenaten (meaning servant of the Aten) early in his reign and started a revolutionary period in Egypt history. He moved the seat of government to a new capital in Akhetaten (now known as Amana) – this period was called The Amarna Interlude and it was short lived. He elevated Aten the god of the sun to the only God in the Egyptian religion. This heresy was to bring down Akhenaten and possibly his son King Tutankamen as the religion of Amun Ra was reinstated after his death and almost immediately during the reign of his son.

As a young prince, the 2nd son of Amenhotep III by his chief wife, Tiy, there is some controversy as to whether he shared co-regency with his father. His elder brother Tuthmosis, had died prematurely. The beginning Akhenaten's reign showed no change from that of his predecessors. He was crowned at Karnak (tem¬ple of the god Amun) and like his father, married a lady of non-royal blood, Nefertiti, the daughter of the vizier Ay.

Ay appears to have been a brother of Queen Tiy. Nefertiti's mother is not known. She may have died as Nefertiti seems to have been brought up by her stepmother Tey another wife of Ay.

The Cult of Aten
There is little doubt that Akhenaten was more of a thinker and philosopher than his predecessors. His father had recognized the growing power of the priesthood of Amun and sought to curb it. Akhenaten was to take the matter a lot further by introducing a new single cult of sun-worship that was incarnate in the sun's disc, the Aten.

Akhenaten's innovation was to worship the Aten in its own right portrayed as a solar disc whose protective rays ended in hands holding the ankh hieroglyph for life. The Aten was only accessible to Akhenaten, therefore eliminating the need for an intermediate priesthood.

Firstly the King built a temple to the god Aten immediately outside the east gate of the temple of Amun at Karnak. Clearly the two cults could not coexist for long. The King took over the temples of Amun, closed them and took over the revenues. To ensure a complete break, in year 6 of his reign he moved to a new capital he named Akhetaten in Middle Egypt, half way between Memphis and Thebes.

This was a new site not previously dedicated to any other gods, and he named it Akhetaten - The Horizon of the Aten. Today the city is known as El Amarna.

In the tomb of Ay, his chief minister (and later King after Tutankamun’s death) there is a long composition known as the 'Hymn to the Aten', said to have been written by Akhenaten himself. It is quite moving and similar to the concept in Psalm 104 its possible source. It summarizes the Aten Cult and especially the concept of Akhenaten having the only access to the god as follows. 'Thou arisest fair in the horizon of Heaven, 0 Living Aten, Beginner of Life ... there is none who knows thee save thy son Akhenaten. Thou hast made him wise in thy plans and thy power.'

The dead no longer called upon Osiris to guide them through the after¬world. They believed only their adherence to Akhenaten and his intervention on their behalf could help them to live beyond the grave.

From present evidence it appears that only the higher echelon embraced the new religion (and perhaps only on the surface). Excavations at El Amarna show that the old way of religion continued among the ordinary people. Throughout Egypt, the cult of Aten had little effect on the common people, except where the priesthood was dismantled and temples were closed. The ordinary people had little to do with religious entities except on high days and holidays when the god’s statue would be carried in procession from the sanctu¬ary outside the great temple walls.

The standard bureaucracy continued to run the coun¬try while the King courted his god. Cracks in the Egyptian empire became evident in the later reign of Akhenaten as he increasingly left gov¬ernment and diplomats to their own devices.

The civil and military author¬ity came under two strong men: Ay his father-in-law who held the title 'Father of the God' and the general Horemheb (Ay's son-in-law as he married Nefertiti’s sister). Both men became Kings before the end of the 18th Dynasty. These two closely related high officials no doubt kept everything discreetly under control while Akhenaten pursued his own inter¬ests.

The Art Style of Akhenaten
The King had unusual physical characteristics and this was emulated in the art of the period, particularly is sculptures. This was shown with elongated skulls, pendulous breasts and protruding stomachs. On a stele now in Berlin Bek his chief sculptor states that he was taught by His Majesty and that he and the court sculptors were instructed to represent what they saw. The result is a realism that breaks away from the rigid formality of earlier times, although some naturalism is shown in earlier, unofficial art.

The power behind the throne
Nefertiti appeared to play a more prominent part in her husband's rule than was normal. The famous bust of Nefertiti in Berlin shows her with an elongated neck. The queen was not subjected to the extreme Amarna art as others. In the early years of Akhenaten's reign, Nefertiti was a prominent figure in official art, dominating the scenes at the temple of the Aten at Karnak. One block shows her in a warlike posture of a pharaoh grasping captives by the hair and hitting them with a mace - hardly the picture of a peaceful queen and mother of 6 daughters.

Tragedy struck the royal family around Year 12 when Mekytaten, Nefertiti’s second daughter died in childbirth. The father was likely Akhenaten, as he was also known to have married two other daughters, Merytaren and Akhesenpaaten (later to be Tutankhamun’s wife).

Nefertiti appears to have died soon after Year 12, although she may have been disgraced. Her name was replaced several times by that of her daughter Merytaten, who succeeded her as 'Great Royal Wife'. She bore a daughter called Merytaten¬-tasherit (Merytaten the Younger), also possibly fathered by Akhentaten. Nefertiti was apparently buried in the royal tomb at Amarna according to a fragment of an alabaster ushabti figure bearing her cartouche found in the early 1930s.

The city of Akhetaten or El Amarna
Akhetaten is an important site because it was only occupied as a capital during the reign of Akhenaten. It is encircled by a natural amphitheater of cliffs on both sides of the Nile and by a series of 15 large stele carved in the rock around its perimeter. On the stele, reliefs show Akhenaten worshipping his god accompanied by his wife and several of their 6 daughters. They give instructions that all should be buried within the city. A royal tomb was cut in a remote area situated halfway between the tombs of the nobles, referred to as the North and South tombs.

None of the tombs was finished and likely few of them were actually occupied. If they had been occupied loving relatives would certainly have removed the bodies immediately after the king's death, to avoid the backlash unleashed against the King and his monuments.

The actual city was developed in a line along the east bank of the Nile. It went a little way back into the desert where some small sun kiosks were placed on the way to the tombs. A road called the King's Road or Royal Avenue ran the length of the city and was lined with official buildings including the Great Palace, the Great Temple an open-air temple to the Aten and administrative offices.

The Great Palace was more likely a ceremonial center than a royal residence. The King and his family probably lived in the North Palace. The houses of the upper class young nobles were arranged in an open plan, different to the normal crowding together usually found in the ancient Near East. They were mostly luxury buildings, with pools and gardens. Overall it appeared as a garden city.

Life in the court and the city revolved around the King and his God ‘the Aten’. This was evident in the reliefs on the great scenes covering the walls everywhere within the city and the tombs. The reliefs show the King and his wife and family protected by the rays of Aten and showed everything to be alive and thriving under the protection of Aten through King Akhenaten's patronage.

Akhenaten’s Form
When the tomb was rediscovered in the early 1880s, it was thought that portraits of the royal couple represented two females, due to Akhenaten’s unusual shape. This shape is possibly from a tumour of the pituitary gland. Well-known effects of this disorder are skull malformation, a lantern-like jaw, an over-heavy head on an elongated neck, excessive fat around the thighs, buttocks and breasts and spindly legs. Making him look female like. It is likely he was struck with the disease later in life as a side effect is infertility and he fathered 6 daughters.

Akhenaten's resting place
Akhenaten died in c.1334, probably in his 16th year of reign. Evidence found by Professor Geoffrey Martin during re-excavation of the royal tomb at Amarna showed that blocking had been put in place in the burial chamber, suggesting that initially Akhenaten was buried there. Some believe that the tomb was never used. However smashed fragments of his sarcophagus and canopic jars and shattered pieces of his ushabtis found in the area of the tomb and in the city would suggest it was occupied.

It is almost certain his body did not remain at Amarna and that his supporters would have taken it and hidden it so as not to be left to be destroyed by his enemies once society returned to the religion of Amun Ra.

Author's Bio: 

My name is Avril Betts, I am originally from England and now a Canadian Citizen, I have over 25 years experience in all aspects of Travel and Tourism, including running an online agency for over 13 years. I holds a CHA (Certified Hotel Administrator) an internationally recognized accreditation and in 1996 hosted the president’s wives luncheon for the G7 conference.

I have co-chaired Atlantic Canada Showcase an International Travel Trade Show, managed 450 volunteers for the Tall Ships Visit in July 2000, and was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year by the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia. In 1988 I founded the Country Inn Association in Nova Scotia still going strong today. I have been involved in numerous Travel and Tourism volunteer activities throughout Atlantic Canada and across Canada.

As an experienced speaker I have spoken and presented seminars to large and small audiences for many years on subjects ranging from Marketing and Sales and Life Skills to Tourism, Travel and Real Estate, and operating an online Travel business.

As a recognized tourism expert I am accustomed to working with tourists and passing on my knowledge of the various destinations to help them make the most of their vacations.

Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or travel inquiries.